Thai exchange student leads the way for Lady Panther netters
JACKSON COUNTY didn’t get just any exchange student seven months ago when a Thai sophomore arrived via Bangkok.
Turns out, the school landed a star tennis player in this international exchange.
Mafan, a 16-year-old member of the Lady Panther tennis team, was a top 10 player in Thailand before coming to the U.S. and bringing her top-flight game with her. Playing in the Lady Panthers’ no. 1 singles slot, Mafan – who prefers going by her first name exclusively – went 9-0 in singles play this year, wrapping up a perfect season Tuesday in Jackson County’s match with North Oconee.
“She’s a great kid, a super athlete, and she’s a joy to have on the team,” Jackson County coach Tammi Gowen said. “She’s always positive. She’s always nervous for a match. She’s just an amazing kid. Great. I couldn’t ask for better.”
Mafan (pronounced Ma-FAN) had ranked as high as no. 3 in her age division in her native Thailand before opting to go abroad for a year of school. Twelve time zones and thousands of miles away now, she fit in with ease in the Lady Panther lineup, not just with her skill, but with her rapport with her newfound teammates.
“I’ve met a lot of good friends, and they’ve been really nice,” Mafan said.
Likewise, Gowen said her group has gotten along famously with their new teammate.
“Mafan just fits in,” Gowen said. “The difference in country and everything doesn’t really seem to have any play … She’ll talk about her country for a little bit, but, for the most part, we’re out here for tennis, and that’s pretty much what we do.”
That’s been a big part of the experience for Mafan, actually. Back in Thailand, tennis was more of an individual venture for Mafan, who has played the sport for 10 years. She played more frequently – about a match everyday – but mostly just dealt with her coach. But this year has allowed her to experience team play and spend time with fellow tennis players.
“In Thailand, I practice just with my coach,” Mafan said. “Here, I practice with all the girls that are friends. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Fun isn’t a word her opponents would use, however, with Mafan winning consistently in straight sets. She lists stamina as one of the keys to her success, allowing her to wear down her foes and rack-up points.
“I can run like forever,” Mafan said. “I will not get really tired from it. I’m just really patient. I pretty much wait until they miss the ball or until they hit into the net.”
Mafan, however, would like to get to where she can finish off opponents faster.
“I want to be more offensive,” she said. “Because I pretty much play on defense right now. So maybe I take too much time to get points.”
As far as maintaining contact with home, Mafan does get to talk with her family once a week but admits to feeling a little homesick at times. It usually happens during matches when she looks to the stands and knows her mother is not there.
“The only reason that I miss home is because whenever I’m going to have a game (back home), I look out toward the fence and I’m like, ‘hey, mom, I’m playing right now,’ … Now, I look out, I always see coach. I always see my friends, but it’s not the same.”
Mafan will be reunited with her family after the school year is over, but she said she feels “lucky to be here” in Jackson County. Though she’ll only be a one-year student at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, Mafan has an affinity for the place that’s been her home for her 10th grade year.
“I have a lot good friends, a lot of new friends, and it’s a great experience to be here,” Mafan said. “I love it here.”